Oscar de la Renta’s Legacy

Oscar de la Renta's Funeral

Oscar de la Renta's Funeral. Photo by Jemal Countess / Getty Images.

On Monday afternoon, friends of fashion designer Oscar de la Renta gathered at his funeral in Manhattan. Guests included Hillary Clinton, First Lady of the Dominican Republic Candida Montilla, Matthew Broderick, Hugh Jackman, Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karan, Vera Wang, and Valentino Garavani. Here, two who knew the designer in very different contexts explain what he meant to them.

Cornelia Guest, New York author and socialite:
"Having grown up with Oscar de la Renta, I have countless memories of this amazing man. He was part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up we loved to go on Sundays to play miniature golf. I would move everyone’s balls and no one could figure out who was doing it—until Oscar figured out it was me. When I was graduating from day school at the age of 12 or 13, my mother [CZ Guest] took me to meet with Oscar. He gave me a lovely white peasant blouse and eyelet skirt. Everyone else had on these little dresses and mine was so special. All my life when I have needed something really beautiful, he was where I would go. He made my mother a red Christmas dress, which she gave to me when I was in my 20s. I wear it every Christmas Eve and this year I will be sure to give a little toast to them both."

Nikki Kaia Lee, a junior at Savannah College of Art and Design:
“My story with Oscar begins when I was 13, the year I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer that spread throughout my throat, chest and lymph nodes. The doctors planned a radical treatment, and I was dreading it.

Then, Ginny Branch Stelling, Peter Hale Cooney III, and Chelsea Rose Cook—SCAD fashion design alumni who had befriended me during my first round of treatment— offered a week of immersion in their fashion world in New York City right before my surgery. They called everyone they knew in the industry and their efforts soon reached Bridget Foley of WWD. She immediately began to arrange a dream experience: the chance to meet many top designers, including Alexander Wang and Oscar de la Renta.

Over lunch in his studio that week, Oscar shared that he was also battling cancer. Although I have no celebrity status or vast wealth, Oscar showed me great respect and kindness. Seeing my joy in his Spring 2009 collection, he selected a dress and custom-tailored it to me, saying a couturier never lets a woman leave the atelier without fitting her dress to perfection. Before leaving the studio that afternoon, Oscar offered me an internship, which was the most generous gift of all, since he knew how hope was an essential path to recovery. That summer, I came to understand the Japanese concept of “on,” the sense of gratitude combined with the desire to give back, as an innate sense of obligation that recognizes the support and love of others. They say that legends never die, so Oscar will forever live on, in my heart and in my mindfulness of passing on to others what he has passed on to me.”